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News Briefs 5.21.03 

Dancin' machine

Apparently, most guys in this town are too cool to dance. The band can be smoking, yet the male majority stands ringside.

            Not Jake. In any dance floor sea, you can see Jake's clean head bobbing like a beacon. He gyrates and boogies circles around people a fraction of his age.

            "I do it 'cause it's in my blood," the 62-year-old Greece resident says. "I grew up as a kid going through all phases of music starting with Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, and all of that. Then it progressed into rock with Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, and Buddy Holly."

            It's clear Jake's always loved music. But he only started dancing five years ago.

            "I never had the nerve to before," he says. Jake was at Carpe Diem, the dance club once located where the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is now, when it hit him. "I remember saying to myself 'Hey, I can get into this.' And I fell into it so naturally."

            Jake is a fixture in motion many nights at the Dinosaur, where women practically line up to cut the rug with him. But techno is his music of choice. "That's why I go over to Rain to hear DJ Lino on the weekends," he says. But he'll shake it to just about anything. "Over at Rain you've got House, trance, rap. I can fit into that perfectly. Or I can go to The Bug Jar and listen to alternative."

            So what about the dudes standing around the dance floor watching life go by as Jake dances with their dates? "They wanna stand around," he says. "That just means more women for me to dance with. I've danced with a lot of guys' wives. I simply ask 'em to dance because I can tell the dude doesn't want to."

            And he looks cool, too.

            "That's only because I've got good rhythm."

--- Frank De Blase

Follow the bouncing veto

On May 15 Governor George Pataki announced he'd taken "bold action to protect the taxpayers of New York City" from "massive tax increases." It was the other shoe dropping: Days earlier he'd boasted he was taking "bold, decisive action" to protect taxpayers statewide. The protection racket would have been expensive: Pataki vetoed almost $1.3 billion in line-items from a bipartisan budget passed by the state legislature. But the Lej roared back, overrode the vetoes and restored the funding --- most notably, more than $1 billion in school aid.

            But sometimes with Pataki, it ain't over even after it's over. The governor has shown a talent for imaginatively manipulating the spigot when he doesn't like a particular program.

            Allan Richards, an aide to Assemblymember Susan John (D-Rochester), points out one technique Pataki could use for his own purposes: "hold up the RFP process [request for proposals to do business with the state] and slow down the money flow that way."

            Richards notes Pataki has looked with disfavor on the legislature's one-quarter-cent addition to the state sales tax, as well as a small, temporary income-tax surcharge on incomes above $100,000. (Of course, the governor would have difficulty messing with big items like these. But keep your eyes on him nonetheless.)

            Moreover, Richards says, Pataki and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver are still in court over a constitutional question: whether a legislator has "capacity and standing" to sue a governor over the latter's use of the line-item veto. So the story seemingly never ends.

Food for thought

Many people who keep tabs on the local "food chain" were surprised to hear a key community organizer, Hank Herrera, recently lost his job with the North East Neighborhood Alliance. Herrera is widely known for Rochester-area and national efforts to boost neighborhood development, food security, and community land trusts. For example, he's been involved with the Community Food Security Coalition, which covers localities across North America. Most conspicuously, Herrera worked to get the "Greater Rochester Urban Bounty" program up and running, with its mini-farm on the city's northeast side and its presence at the Rochester Public Market.

            Representatives of NENA and other Northeast community groups did not return our calls for comment. Mayor Bill Johnson recalled that City of Rochester representatives have worked closely with Herrera and NENA, especially in connection to the group's $1 million, four-year grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (supplemented by support from City Hall and other local sources). Johnson said he was "totally unprepared" for this sort of news regarding what he thought was a smoothly operating team of activists. He admitted he'd heard only one side of the controversy. And --- like others out there who wondered what was going on --- he hoped there might be some kind of reconciliation.

Ways of spending

Part of Mayor Bill Johnson's approach to closing the city's $38.1 million deficit is to reduce spending on capital projects by $6.9 million in his proposed 2003-2004 budget. During the announcement of his budget proposal last Friday, May 16, Johnson said many of those projects will be resumed in 2004-2005.

            Even if the city is faced with another multi-million-dollar deficit? The city's general approach to capital projects --- spreading them out over five-year periods and having city council vote on every expenditure --- allows a nice degree of wiggle room from year to year.

            But things can start to get sticky "when you get to a point where you're hit with something you can't avoid any longer," Johnson says.

            Johnson's solution: finding a fresh approach to the city's capital projects.

            "We are constantly reviewing all of our capital projects and determining how we can scale back," he says. "But now we're looking at projects that have a real public purpose. Things that don't just benefit the operations of City Hall, like putting in curb cuts and things like that. We can really be a little more aggressive in getting private support to help us build some of these projects. So you might see some examples of that soon, which is one way to mitigate this."

            City Council begins its budget review process with a Budget Hearing on police, fire, and emergency communications on Tuesday, May 27, at 4 p.m. in Council Chambers, City Hall. Copies of the proposed budget are available for review in all city public libraries or in rooms 200A and 300A of City Hall.

Warm welcome

Lots of studies point to the disastrous consequences of climate change on oceans and glaciers, continental climates, and other things global. But now the Boston-based Union of Concerned Scientists and the Ecological Society of America have brought the issue down to our backyards.

            The two groups recently issued a report, Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region, which looks at problems and offers regional solutions state-by-state. The report predicts "New York's climate will grow considerably warmer and probably drier during this century." Summer temperatures around here could rise seven to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, "roughly the same as the warming since the last ice age." There also could be changes in precipitation patterns (with drier soils and more droughts), more frequent "extreme events," and declines in Great Lakes ice cover.

            "Extreme heat days" and increases in ground-level ozone could seriously hurt agriculture and outdoor-oriented tourism. (The report emphasizes that "tourism in Upstate New York is almost exclusively outdoor-oriented," with the Niagara region and the Great Lakes shoreline as top attractions.) And human health could suffer as air quality gets worse and infectious diseases spread more easily.

            US Representative Louise Slaughter issued a statement about the report, calling attention to its "frightening predictions for New York's ecological future," and urging passage of "regulations to decrease harmful pollution that causes climate change." The report, too, has suggestions in this vein: The state and region, it says, should reduce their dependence on coal-fired electric generating plants by adopting renewables like wind-power; limiting urban sprawl; and discouraging gas-guzzlers and promiscuous road-building. (By the way, we're one of the most notorious areas in the country for sprawl and the concomitant destruction of prime farmland.)

Cobblestone marks milestone

While many schools are throttled by pressure to grade students as if they were eggs, Rochester's Cobblestone School hews to an open-style educational philosophy drawn from Rousseau, Dewey, Montessori, and other thinkers.

            This philosophy, as a Cobblestone statement puts it, recognizes that "children develop at different rates," that "learners must be active participants in the own learning," and that "children should not be locked into a specific sequence of learning." The school puts a premium on personal inquiry, critical thinking, and experimentation.

            Cobblestone students, parents, and alumni recently celebrated the school's 20th anniversary. The celebration took place in part of the old Sacred Heart Academy on Prince Street, where the school, now grown to K-8, has been housed since 1992.

            Longtime Cobblestone educator Doug Noble prepared for the anniversary with an essay full of questions about the school's past and future. "Why do we do all this?" he asked. "This is currently a difficult world within which to offer a child-centered education, with its state testing-mania in [public] schools and looming uncertainties on every front." Earlier in the essay, he gave one answer away: The school was founded, he said, as a counterweight to "a larger society relentlessly intent on measuring and controlling its children rather than on celebrating and engaging them."


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